Green Lantern Sector 2814 volume 1


By Len Wein, Dave Gibbons & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3689-2

Since the dawn of American comics’ Silver Age, where and when The Flash kick-started it all to become the fast-beating heart of the revived genre of superheroes, his fellow jet-age re-tread Green Lantern has always provided the conceptual framework for the comprehensive, pervasive magic of the DC Universe’s monolithic shared continuity.

Hal Jordan was a brash young test pilot in Coast City, California when an alien cop crashed on Earth. Mortally wounded, Abin Sur commanded his power ring – a device which could materialise thoughts – to seek out a replacement officer, honest and without fear.

Scanning the planet, it selected Jordan and brought him to the crash-site. The dying alien bequeathed his ring, the lantern-shaped Battery of Power and his professional vocation to the astonished Earthman.

Jordan grew to be one of the greatest members of a serried band of law-enforcers. The Green Lantern Corps has protected the cosmos from evil and disaster for billions of years, policing vast numbers of sentient beings under the severe but benevolent auspices of immortal super-beings who consider themselves the Guardians of the Universe.

These undying patrons of Order were one of the first races to evolve and dwelt in sublime, emotionless security and tranquillity on the world of Oa at the very centre of creation.

Green Lanterns are chosen for their capacity to overcome fear and are equipped with a ring that creates solid constructs out of emerald light. The miracle weapon is fuelled by the strength of the user’s willpower, making it one of the mightiest tools in the universe.

For eons, a single individual from each of the 3600 sectors of known space was selected to patrol his, her or its own beat.

As the series progressed The Guardians’ motives and ineffability increasingly came into question by many of their once-devoted operatives and peacekeepers, who too frequently saw the formerly infallible little blue gods exposed as venal, ruthless, doctrinaire and even capricious…

Even as his fame and repute grew, headstrong Hal had endured an extremely tempestuous relationship with his bosses which eventually resulted in them accusing him of neglecting his space sector – 2814 – to concentrate on Earth’s problems and criminals.

This led to the Oan overlords banishing Jordan: compelling him to scrupulously patrol his appointed interstellar beat and never again set foot on Earth…

This fabulous cosmic Fight’s ‘n’ Tights trade paperback compilation – also available in eBook editions – gathers Green Lantern #172-176 and 178-181. It spans January – October 1984 and celebrates the end of that exile as new writer/editor Len Wein united with illustrator/letterer (and vanguard of a “British Invasion” of talent that would reshape the comicbook industry) Dave Gibbons to bring the wanderer home…

After a year way performing heroic service across the starways, Jordan stridently petitioned his master on Oa where a phalanx of his comrades supported his request to be allowed back to his birthworld. His ‘Judgment Day!’ gave him everything he wanted but when Jordan returned to Coast City he quickly discovered that the world had moved on without him…

Reunited with lover Carol Ferris, Hal tries to readjust in ‘Old Friends, New Foes…!’ but an unsuspected rival at work is as nothing compared to the covert machinations of an unsuspected observer and power-broker known as the Monitor (yes, that guy! Check out Crisis on Infinite Earths for more detail) who supplies the mystery villain with a selection of super-powered mercenaries…

The first of these is a German maniac with a penchant for high-tech trick spears who attempts to kill the Emerald Crusader and vaporise Ferris Aircraft in #174’s ‘I Shot a Javelin into the Air…!’

GL #175 offers a fraught reunion with old pal Barry Allen – AKA the Flash – before a predatory mutant archenemy resurfaces to turn Hal’s city and friends into ‘Shark Bait!’

The Shark’s mental assault consumes the hero’s mind, leaving the Emerald Gladiator brainwiped, comatose and dying, but in #176 (inked by Dick Giordano and lettered by Ben Oda) the indomitable personality of Hal Jordan battles his way out of the paranormal predator’s cerebral gullet and back into action through a series of ‘Mind Games!’

The enigmatic enemy in the background still wants GL gone and Ferris obliterated, however, and subsequently commissions more high-tech hirelings in #178: specifically, a squad of construction-worker themed wreckers dubbed the Demolition Team.

Throughout the period of these tales, ferocious deadlines plagued the creative team, with Gibbon’s preference to draw, ink and letter the stories perpetually confounded by the fact that he was generally receiving scripts three pages at a time. In an era before the internet when the fax machine was the acme of technological communication, something had to give, and after a fill-in issue (#177 and not included here) failed to solve the problems, two last all-Gibbons issues were followed by a separation of roles…

Before that though, just as Ferris is battered and shattered by ‘A Bad Case of the D.T.s!’, Green Lantern is called way from Earth by the implacable Guardians to save an exploding planet. Heartbroken and terrified, Carol sees her company practically destroyed until a new, brutally vicious protagonist steps in to stop the Demolition Team in #179’s ‘Let Us Prey!’ (both by Wein & Gibbons).

By the time Jordan returns to view the ‘Aftermath!’ (GL #180 with Mike DeCarlo inking and Ben Oda on letters) the damage has been done both to the factory and Hal’s now-crippled friend Clay Kendell. Appalled at his own dereliction of duty and personal failures, Jordan consults with a number of Justice League colleagues before heading to Oa in #181 (Mark Farmer inks & John Costanza letters) and telling the Guardians to ‘Take This Job… And Shove It!’

They accept, precipitating one of the biggest events in DC history…

To Be Continued…
© 1984 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Lois Lane: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Jerry Seigel & Joe Shuster, Don Cameron, William Woolfolk, Whitney Ellsworth, Jerry Coleman, Robert Kanigher, Cary Bates, John Byrne, Jeph Loeb, Phil Jimenez, Katheryn Immonen, Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, Ed Dobrotka, Sam Citron, Al Plastino, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Ed McGuiness, Matthew Clark, Renato Guedes, Frank Quitely & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4703-4 (HB)

When the Man of Steel debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) he was instantly the centre of attention, but even then, the need for a solid supporting cast was understood and cleverly catered for. Glamorous daredevil journalist Lois Lane premiered right beside Clark Kent – a constant companion and foil from the outset.

This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series introducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of venerable DC icons – is available in hardback and digital formats, offering a sequence of snapshots detailing how the original “plucky news-hen” has evolved right beside Superman in that “never-ending battle”…

The groundbreaking appearances selected are preceded here by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in Lois’ development, beginning with

Part I 1938-1956: Girl Reporter

Most of the early tales were untitled, but for everyone’s convenience have been given descriptive appellations by the editors. Thus, after describing the foundling’s escape from exploding Planet Krypton and explaining his astonishing powers in nine panels, with absolutely no preamble the wonderment begins in ‘Superman, Champion of the Oppressed’ and ‘War in San Monte’ from Action Comics #1 and 2 (June and July 1938 by Jerry Seigel & Joe Shuster) as the costumed crusader – masquerading by day as reporter Clark Kent – began averting numerous tragedies.

As well as saving an innocent woman from the electric chair and roughing up a wife-beater, the tireless crusader worked over racketeer Butch Matson – consequently saving suave and feisty colleague Lois from abduction and worse since she was attempting to vamp the thug at the time!

The mysterious Man of Steel made a big impression on her by then outing a lobbyist for the armaments industry who was bribing Senators on behalf of greedy munitions interests fomenting war in Europe…

The next breathtaking instalment sees the mercurial mystery-man travelling to the actual war-zone and spectacularly dampen down the hostilities already in progress, after which in #6 canny chiseller Nick Williams attempts to monetise the hero – without asking first. ‘The Man Who Sold Superman’ (Action Comics #6 1938, Seigel & Shuster) had Superman’s phony Manager even attempting to replace the real thing with a cheap, musclebound knock-off before quickly learning a very painful lesson in business ethics…

In those turbulent times the interpretation of the dogged journalist was far less derogatory than the post-war sneaky minx of the 1950s and 1960s. Lois might have been ambitious and life-threateningly precipitate, but it was always to advance her own career, help underdogs and put bad guys away, not trap a man into marriage. At his time, she was much more Nellie Bly than Zsa Zsa Gabor.

After proving a worthy rival and foil to Clark Kent and his alter ego, Lois won her own occasional solo feature beginning in Superman #28 (May/June 1944). Examples included here begin with ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Bakery Counterfeiters’ (Superman #29, July/August 1944, by Don Cameron, Ed Dobrotka & George Roussos) which finds the peerless newshound turning her demotion to the women’s cookery pages into another blockbusting scoop by uncovering a crafty money scam at the local patisserie…

In Superman #33 (March 1945) Whitney Ellsworth & Ed Dobrotka detail how a typically cruel prank by male colleagues and cops turns into another front-page scoop as Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Purloined Piggy Bank’ sees her help a little kid and unmask big time jewel thieves after which ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter: The Foiled Frame Up’ (Superman #34 May 1945 by Ellsworth, Sam Citron & Roussos) has her expose political corruption by exposing grafters seeking to discredit Daily Planet Editor Perry White

Originally seen in Superman #58 (May-June 1949) ‘Lois Lane Loves Clark Kent’ is by William Woolfolk, Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye: a beguiling teaser finding our “Girl Friday” (that’s a movie reference: look it up) consulting a psychiatrist because of her romantic obsession with the Man of Steel.

The quack tells her to switch her affections to her bewildered, harassed workmate!

Part II 1957-1985: Superman’s Girl Friend

When Lois Lane – arguably the oldest supporting character/star in the Superman mythology if not the DC universe – finally received her own shot at a solo title, it was very much on the terms of the times.

When the Adventures of Superman television show launched in the autumn of 1952 it was an overnight sensation and National Periodicals began cautiously expanding their revitalised franchise with new characters and titles.

First to get a promotion to solo-star status was the Daily Planet’s impetuously capable if naïve “cub reporter”. His gloriously charming, light-hearted, semi-solo escapades began in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 (September-October 1954): the first spin-off star in the Caped Kryptonian’s ever-expanding entourage.

It took three years for the cautious Editors to tentatively push the boat out again. In 1957, just as the Silver Age of Comics was getting going try-out title Showcase – which had launched The Flash (#4) and Challengers of the Unknown (#6) – followed up with a brace of issues entitled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane.

Soon after they swiftly awarding the “plucky News-hen” a series of her own. Technically it was her second, following her brief mid-1940s solo back-ups in Superman.

In previous reviews I’ve banged on at length about the strange, patronising, parochial – and to some of us, potentially offensive – portrayals of kids and most especially women during this period, and although at least fairer and more affirmative instances were beginning to appear, the warnings still bear repeating.

At that time Lois Lane was one of precious few titles with a female lead, and, in the context of today, one that gives many 21st century fans a few uncontrollable qualms of conscience. Within the confines of her series the valiant, capable working woman careened crazily from man-hungry, unscrupulous bitch, through ditzy simpleton, to indomitable and brilliant heroine – often all in the same issue.

The comic was clearly intended to appeal to the family demographic that made I Love Lucy a national phenomenon and Doris Day a saccharine saint, with many stories played for laughs in that same patriarchal, parochial manner; a “gosh, aren’t women funny?” tone that appals me today – but not as much as the fact that I still love them to bits.

It honestly helps that they’re mostly sublimely illustrated by the wonderfully whimsical Kurt Schaffenberger.

During the 1950s and early 1960s in America, being different was a bad thing. Conformity was sacrosanct, even in comicbooks, and everybody and thing was meant to keep to its assigned and intended role. For the Superman family and cast the tone of the times dictated a highly-strictured code of conduct and parameters: Daily Planet Editor Perry White was a stern, shouty elder statesman with a heart of gold, Cub Reporter Jimmy Olsen was a bravely impulsive unseasoned fool – with a heart of gold – and Plucky News-Hen (what does that even mean?) Lois Lane was brash, nosy, impetuous, unscrupulous and relentless in her obsession to marry Superman, although she too was – deep down – another owner of an Auric aorta.

Yet somehow even with these mandates in place the talented writers and artists assigned to detail their wholesomely uncanny exploits managed to craft tales both beguiling and breathtakingly memorable: frequently as funny as they were exciting.

I must shamefacedly admit to a deep, nostalgic affection for her bright, breezy, fantastically fun adventures, but as a free-thinking, (notionally) adult liberal of the 21st century I’m simultaneously shocked nowadays at the jolly, patronising, patriarchally misogynistic attitudes underpinning too many of the stories.

Yes, I’m fully aware that the series was intended for young readers at a time when “dizzy dames” and matronly icons played to the popular American gestalt stereotype of Woman as jealous minx, silly goose, diffident wife and brood-hungry nester, but to ask kids to seriously accept that intelligent, courageous, ambitious, ethical and highly capable females would drop everything they’d worked hard for to lie, cheat, inveigle, manipulate and entrap a man just so that they could cook pot-roast and change super-diapers is just plain crazy and tantamount to child abuse.

I’m just saying…

Showcase #9 (cover-dated July/August 1957) featured Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane and opened with the seminal yarn ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past’ (by Jerry Coleman & Al Plastino) wherein Lois first met red-headed hussy Lana Lang: childhood sweetheart of Superboy and a pushy conniving go-getter out to win Lois’ intended at any and all costs. Naturally Miss Lane invited Miss Lang to stay at her apartment and the grand rivalry was off and running…

Then ‘The New Lois Lane’ (Otto Binder, Ruben Moreira & Plastino) aggravatingly sees Lois turn over a new leaf and stop attempting to uncover his secret identity just when Superman actually needs her to do so…

Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #1 (March/April #1958) then confirms all stereotypes in Binder & Schaffenberger’s ’The Fattest Girl in Metropolis’: wherein a plant growth ray accidentally super-sizes our vain but valiant reporter. Imagine her reaction when she finds out that Superman had deliberately expanded her dimensions… for good and solid reasons, of course…

In ‘The Kryptonite Girl’ (Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #16, April 1960), Siegel & Schaffenberger were responsible for another cruel lesson as Superman tries to cure Lois’ nosy impulses by tricking his own girlfriend into believing she has a radioactive death-stare. (Of course, as all married couples know, such a power develops naturally not long after the honeymoon…) I love these stories, but sometime words just fail me…

As contrived by Leo Dorfman & Schaffenberger, a personality-altering head blow then causes Lois to try tricking her Man of Steel into matrimony in ‘The Romance of Superbaby and Baby Lois’ (#42, July 1963). Sadly, whilst conniving she employs a stolen rejuvenation chemical which cause them to de-age below the age of legal consent…

Happily, the late 1960s, Feminism and the general raising of female consciousness rescued Lois from demented domesticity, and by the time of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106 (November 1970) she was a competent, combative, totally capable go-getting journalist every inch the better of her male rivals. It’s a shame more of those stories aren’t included in this collection.

However, ‘I Am Curious (Black)!’ by Robert Kanigher, Werner Roth & Vince Colletta showed the lengths she would go to get her story. Unable to truly grasp the nature of being African American, she borrows Kryptonian tech to become black for 24 hours and realises how friends, acquaintances and fellow liberals responds to different skins. She even asks Superman if he would marry her in her altered state…

Big changes and modifications were set in place for Part III 1986-1999: Lois and Clark.

When DC Comics decided to rationalise and reconstruct their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, they used the event to regenerate their key properties. The biggest shake-up was Superman and it’s hard to argue that the change was unnecessary. The old soldier was in a bit of a slump, but he’d weathered those before. So how could a root and branch overhaul be anything but a marketing ploy that would alienate real fans for a few fly-by-night chancers who would jump ship as soon as the next fad surfaced?

Superman’s titles were cancelled/suspended for three months, and boy, did that make the media sit-up and take notice – for the first time since the debut Christopher Reeve movie. But there was method in this corporate madness…

Man of Steel – written and drawn by John Byrne and inked by Dick Giordano – stripped away vast amounts of accumulated baggage and returned the hero to the far from omnipotent, edgy but good-hearted reformer Siegel and Shuster had first envisioned. It was a huge and instant success, becoming the industry’s premiere ‘break-out’ hit and from that overwhelming start Superman re-inhabited his suspended comicbook homes with the addition of a third monthly title premiering the same month.

The miniseries presented six complete stories from key points in Superman’s career, reconstructed in the wake of the aforementioned Crisis. ‘From Out of the Green Dawn…’ (Man of Steel #1, June 1986) revealed a startling new Krypton in its final moments then followed the Last Son in his escape, through his years in Smallville to his first recorded exploit and initial encounter with Lois Lane.

Byrne was a controversial choice at the time, but he magnificently rekindled the exciting, visually compelling, contemporary and even socially aware slices of sheer exuberant, four-colour fantasy that was the original Superman, making it possible and fashionable to be a fan again, no matter your age or prejudice. Superman had always been great, but Byrne had once again made him thrilling and unmissable.

Included here though, is ‘The Story of the Century’ from The Man of Steel #2 (October 1986) wherein feisty top Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane puts all her efforts into getting the landmark exclusive first interview with Metropolis’ mystery superhero, only to be ultimately scooped by a nerdy, hick new hire named Clark Kent…

We then skip to anniversary issue Action Comics #600 (May 1988) for an untitled segment courtesy of Byrne, Roger Stern, Schaffenberger, Jerry Ordway of a mammoth ensemble piece. Codified for easy access as “Lois Lane” the tale depicts the jaded journalist – fresh from beating up and arresting a gang of thugs – rendezvous with rival Kent to discuss Superman’s possible romance with Wonder Woman

As the years passed Lois and Clark grew beyond professionalism into a work romance but the hero kept his other identity from her. That all changed after the Man of Tomorrow narrowly defeated mystic predator Silver Banshee and decided there would no more ‘Secrets in the Night’ between him and his beloved (Action Comics #662, February 1991, by Stern & Bob McLeod).

Having finally married her man (in 1996) Lois and Clark settled down into a life of hectic wedded bliss, but trouble was never far from the happy couple.

Created as part of the Girlfrenzy publishing event, ‘Lois Lane’ from one-shot Superman: Lois Lane #1 (June 1998 by Barbara Kesel, Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti sees the relentless reporter heading to Canada to singlehandedly bust a child-snatch ring and illicit genetics-mutation lab…

In Part IV 2000-Present: Twenty-First Century Lois, the era of domesticity was marred by many external problems, such as Lex Luthor finagling himself into America’s presidency. ‘With This Ring’ (Superman #168, May 2001 from Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuiness & Cam Smith) details how Lois and Batman infiltrate the White House to steal the gimmick Bad PotUS has been using to keep the Man of Steel at bay, after which ‘She’s a Wonder’ (Wonder Woman #170 (July 2001, by Phil Jimenez, Joe Kelly & Andy Lanning) offers a pretty but relatively slow day-in-the-life tale.

Here Lois interviews the impossibly perfect Amazon cultural ambassador to Mans’s World – and potential romantic rival – providing readers with valuable insights into both.

Greg Rucka, Mathew Clark, & Renato Guedes & Nelson then craft ‘Battery: Part Five’ (Adventures of Superman #631 (October 2004) as Lois’s devil-may-care luck finally runs out and the Caped Kryptonian arrives seconds too late after she becomes a sniper’s target.

Slipping back into comedy, ‘Patience-Centred Care’ comes from Superman 80-Page Giant 2010, where Katheryn Immonen & Tonci Zonjic show how even the Action Ace can’t cope with a bed-ridden wife who won’t let flu stop her nailing a story…

Part V 1957-1985: Imaginary Tales then takes a step sideways to highlight the many memorable out-of-continuity stories the Superman-Lois relationship has generated.

‘The Wife of Superman’ was part of an occasional series running in early issues of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane. Probably scripted by Seigel and definitely drawn by Schaffenberger) this third outing (from #23, February 1961), revisits a possible future wherein Lois is worn to a frazzle by two unmanageable super-toddlers and yearns for her old job at the Daily Planet…

From a period where Golden Age stories where assumed to have occurred on parallel world Earth-Two, ‘Superman Takes a Wife’ comes from 40th Anniversary issue Action Comics #484 (June 1978). Here Cary Bates, Curt Swan & Joe Giella detail how the original Man of Tomorrow became editor of the Metropolis Daily Star in the 1950s and married Lois. Thanks to villainous rogues Colonel Future and the Wizard who had discovered a way to make Superman forget his own existence, only she knew that her husband was once Earth’s greatest hero…

When I was a nipper, Superman had outlandish adventures and was a decent regular guy. His head could be replaced by a lion’s or an ant’s and he loved playing jokes on his friends. His exploits were routinely mind-boggling and he kept a quiet dignity about him. He only shouted to shatter concrete, and not to bully villains. He was quietly cool.

And in All Star Superman he was again. Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely produced a delightful evocation of those simpler, gentler times with a guided tour of the past redolent with classic mile-markers. Superman was the world’s boy scout, Lois was spending her days trying to prove Clark is the Man of Steel, Jimmy Olsen was a competent young reporter dating Lucy Lane and all of time and space knew they could always rely on the Man of Tomorrow.

As seen in All-Star Superman #2 and 3 (February and May 2006), ‘Superman’s Forbidden Room’ and ‘Sweet Dreams, Superwoman’ sees Lois takes centre stage as a plot to kill Superman forces the hero to acknowledge his feelings for her. The result is an astonishing trip to his Fortress of Solitude and a hyper-empowering birthday gift she will never forget… Wrapping up the recollections is an astounding Cover Gallery to accompany the works already seen in conjunction with the stories cited above with covers by Shuster, Swan & Stan Kaye, Schaffenberger, Murphy Anderson, Byrne, Kerry Gammill & Brett Breeding, Leonard Kirk & Karl Story, Ed McGuiness & Cam Smith, Adam Hughes, Gene Ha, José Luis García-López, Quitely & Jamie Grant.

These extras comprise Superman #51 (March/April 1948) and Action Comics #137 (October 1949) both by Boring & Kaye; Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #1 (April 1958) by Swan & Kaye; issue #25 (May 1961) by Schaffenberger; #80 (January 1967) by Swan & Neal Adams and #111 (July 1971) by Giordano.

Later classics covers include Superman volume 2 #59 (September 1991) by Dan Jurgens & Brett Breeding; Superman: The Wedding Album and Beyond (1995) by Jurgens & Ordway; Superman volume 2 #157 (June 2000) by McGuiness & Smith; Superman Returns Prequel #4 (August 2006) by Hughes; Superman Confidential #2 (February 2007) by Tim Sale and Superman Unchained #1 (2013 variant cover) by José Luis García-López.

This monolithic testament to the most enduring love affair in comics is a guaranteed delight for fans of all ages and a perfect introductory time capsule for all readers of fantastic fiction.
© 1940, 1942, 1952, 1954, 1957, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1972, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2014, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Batman Adventures: Mad Love Deluxe Edition


By Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, with Rick Taylor & Tim Harkins (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5512-1

Harley Quinn wasn’t supposed to be a star… or even an actual comicbook character. As soon became apparent, however, the manic minx always has her own astoundingly askew and off-kilter ideas on the matter… and any other topic you could name: ethics, friendship, ordnance, true love…

Created by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. Ostensibly for kids, the breakthrough television cartoon revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and immediately began feeding back into the print iteration, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all iterations of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, reshaped the grim avenger and his extended team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to…

Harley Quinn was first seen as the Clown Prince of Crime’s slavishly adoring, extreme abuse-enduring assistant in Joker’s Favor (airing on September 11th 1992) where she instantly captured the hearts and minds of millions of viewers. From there on she began popping up in the incredibly successful licensed comicbook and – always stealing the show – soon graduated into mainstream DC continuity.

After a period bopping around the DCU she was re-imagined as part of the company’s vast post-Flashpoint major makeover and appeared as part of a new gritty-but-still-crazy iteration of the Suicide Squad, but at heart she’s always been a cartoon glamour-puss, with big, bold, primal emotions and only the merest acknowledgement of how reality works…

Re-presenting the 1994 one-shot Batman Adventures: Mad Love, this slight and breezy hardcover is made up of mostly recycled material – including writer Paul Dini’s comfortably inviting Foreword and co-plotter/illustrator Bruce Timm’s effusive and candidly informative ‘Mad Love Afterword’.

However, a truly unmissable bonus treat for art-lovers and all those seeking technical insight (perhaps with a view to making comics or animation their day job) is the illustrator’s full monochrome ‘Original Layouts for The Batman Adventures: Mad Love’; displaying how the story materialised page by page; previous and variant covers to earlier editions and unused painted back cover art plus highly detailed, fully-annotated colour guides for the complete story offering a perfect “How To…” lesson for aspiring creators…

All that being said though, what we want most is a great story, and the magnificently madcap mayhem commences here as Police Commissioner James Gordon heads to the dentist. When Batman easily foils the Joker’s latest manic murder attempt, the mountebank of Mirth pettishly realises he’s lost his inspirational spark.

He’s therefore in no mood for lasciviously whining lapdog Harley’s words of comfort or flirtatious pep talks…

As the Dark Knight reviews his files on the Joker’s girlfriend and ponders on how Harleen Frances Quinzel breezed through college and came away with a psychology degree that got her a position at Arkham Asylum, the larcenous lady in question has gone too far in the Joker’s lair. The trigger was comforting sympathy and telling her “precious pudden” how his baroque murder schemes could be improved…

Kicked out and almost killed (again), Harleen harks back to her first meeting with the devilishly desirable crazy clown and how they instantly clicked. She fondly recalls how her original plan to psychoanalyse the Joker and write a profitable tell-all book was forgotten the moment she fell under his malign spell to become his adoring, willing and despised slave…

She also realises that Batman quickly scotched their budding eternal love by capturing the grinning psycho-killer she secretly aided and abetted, both before and after she created her own costumed alter ego…

In fact, Batman always spoils her dreams and brutalises her adored “Mistah J”! It’s long past time she took care of him forever…

Driven by desperation and fuelled by passion, Harley Quinn swipes one of the Joker’s abortive schemes and tweaks it, and before long the Gotham Gangbuster is duped, doped, bound and destined for certain doom.

Sadly, the triumphant Little Woman hasn’t reckoned on how her barmy beloved will react when he learns she has done in mere hours what he’s failed to accomplish over many bitter years…

Coloured by Rick Taylor and lettered by Tim Harkins, the classy and classically staged main feature plays very much like a 1940s noir blend of morbid melodrama and cunning crime caper – albeit with outrageous over-the-top gags, sharply biting lines of dialogue and a blend of black humour and bombastic action – and easily qualifies as one of the top five bat-tales of all time.

A frantic, laugh-packed hoot that manages to be daring and demure by turns, Mad Love is an absolute delight, well worth the price of admission and an irresistible treasure to be enjoyed over and over again.
© 1994, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

DC’s Greatest Imaginary Stories


By Otto Binder, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, John Broome, Leo Dorfman, Edmond Hamilton, Jim Shooter, C.C. Beck, Dick Sprang, Kurt Schaffenberger, Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Bob Kane & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0534-8

Alan Moore’s infamous epigram notwithstanding, not all comics tales are “Imaginary Stories.”

When DC Editor Mort Weisinger was expanding the Superman continuity and building the legend, he realised that each new tale was an event that added to a nigh-sacred canon: that what was written and drawn mattered to the readers. But as a big concept guy he wasn’t going to let that aggregated “history” stifle a good idea, nor would he allow his eager yet sophisticated audience to endure clichéd deus ex machina cop-outs to mar the sheer enjoyment of a captivating concept.

The mantra known to every baby-boomer fan was “Not a Dream! Not a Hoax! Not a Robot!” boldly emblazoned on covers depicting scenes that couldn’t possibly be true… even if it was only a comicbook.

Imaginary Stories were conceived as a way of exploring non-continuity plots and scenarios devised at a time when editors believed entertainment trumped consistency and knew that every comic read was somebody’s first …or potentially last.

This jolly little compilation celebrates that period when whimsy and imagination were king and stretches the point by leading with a fanciful tale of the World’s Mightiest Mortal as ‘Captain Marvel and the Atomic War’ (Captain Marvel Adventures #66, October 1946) actually hoaxes the public with a demonstration of how the world could end in the new era of Nuclear Proliferation, courtesy of Otto Binder & CC Beck.

‘The Second Life of Batman’ (Batman #127 October 1959) by Bill Finger, Dick Sprang & Charles Paris doesn’t really fit the strict definition either, but the tale of a device that predicts how Bruce Wayne’s life would have run if his parents had not been killed is superb and engaging all the same.

‘Mr. and Mrs. Clark (Superman) Kent!’ by Binder and the brilliant Kurt Schaffenberger, was the first tale of an occasional series that began in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #9 (August 1960); depicting the laughter and tears that might result if the plucky news-hen secretly married the Man of Steel. From an era uncomfortably parochial and patronizing to women, there’s actually plenty of genuine heart and understanding in this tale and a minimum of snide sniping about “silly, empty-headed girls”…

Eventually the concepts became so bold that Imaginary Stories could command book-length status. ‘Lex Luthor, Hero!’ (Superman #149, November 1961) by Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan & Sheldon Moldoff details the mad scientist’s greatest master-plan and ultimate victory in a tale as powerful now as it ever was. In many ways this is what the whole concept was made for…

No prizes for guessing what ‘Jimmy Olsen Marries Supergirl!’ (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, #57, December 1961) is about, but the story is truly a charming delight, beautifully realized by Siegel, Swan & Stan Kaye.

Once more stretching the point ‘The Origin of Flash’s Masked Identity!’ (The Flash# 128, May 1962) by John Broome, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, although highly entertaining, is more an enthusiastic day-dream than alternate reality, and, I suspect, added to bring variety to the mix – as is the intriguing ‘Batman’s New Secret Identity’ (Batman #151, November 1961, by Finger, Bob Kane & Paris).

‘The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue!’ (Superman #162, July 1963) is possibly the most influential tale of this entire sub-genre. Written by Leo Dorfman, with art from Swan & George Klein, this startling utopian classic was so well-received that decades later it influenced and flavoured the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman continuity for years. The plot involves the Action Ace being divided into two equal wonder men who promptly solve all universal problems and even the love rivalry between Lois Lane and Lana Lang!

The writer of ‘The Three Wives of Superman!’ is currently unknown to us but the ever-excellent Schaffenberger can at least be congratulated for this enchanting tragedy of missed chances that originally saw print in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #51, from August 1964.

‘The Fantastic Story of Superman’s Sons’ (Superman #166, November 1964) by Edmond Hamilton, Swan & Klein is a solid thriller built on a tragic premise (what if only one of Superman’s children inherited his powers?), and this bright and breezy book closes with the stirring and hard-hitting ‘Superman and Batman… Brothers!’, wherein orphaned Bruce Wayne is adopted by the Kents, but cannot escape a destiny of tragedy and darkness.

Written by Jim Shooter, with art from Swan & Klein for World’s Finest Comics # 172 (cover-dated December 1967) this moody thriller in many ways signalled the end of the carefree days and the beginning of a grittier, more cohesive DC universe for a less whimsical, fan-based audience.

This collection is a glorious slice of fancy, augmented by an informative introduction from columnist Craig Shutt, and bolstered with mini-cover reproductions of many tales that tragically never made it into the collection, but I do have one minor quibble: No other type of tale was more dependent on an eye-catching, conceptually intriguing cover, so why couldn’t those belonging to these collected classics have been included here, too?

Surely, it’s time for a re-issue in either print or eBook format with all those arresting covers included. Yes, it is… and don’t call me Shirley…
© 1946, 1959-1964, 1967, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Aquaman: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Mort Weisinger, Joe Samachson, Jack Miller, George Kashdan, Robert Bernstein, Steve Skeates, Gerry Conway, Paul Levitz, Peter David, David Michelinie, Rick Veitch, Geoff Johns, Cullen Bunn, Paul Norris, Louis Cazeneuve, Ramona Fradon, Nick Cardy, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Martin Egeland, Jim Calafiore, Yvel Guichet, Ivan Reis, Trevor McCarthy & others (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6446-8

Aquaman is that oddest of comicbook phenomena: a timeless survivor. One of the few superheroes to carry on in unbroken exploits since the Golden Age, the King of the Seas has endured endless cancellations, reboots and makeovers in the name of trendy relevance and fickle fashion but somehow has always rapidly recovered to come back fresher, stronger and more reinvigorated.

He’s also one of the earliest cartoon champions to make the jump to television…

Where many stronger features foundered – and although strictly a second stringer for most of his career – Aquaman nevertheless soldiered on long after the Golden Age ended: a rather nondescript and generally bland looking chap who solved maritime crimes, rescuing fish and people from sub-sea disaster.

This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series introducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts is available in hardback and digital formats, offering an all-too-brief but astoundingly enticing sequence of tantalising snapshots detailing how Aquaman has changed like the tides yet remains as constant as the endless seas.

Collecting material from More Fun Comics #73, 89, Adventure Comics #120, 174, 220, 260, 266, 269, 444, 452, 475, Aquaman volume 1 #1, 18, 40, Justice League of America Annual #2, Aquaman volume 2 #3, Aquaman volume 4 #2, 34, Aquaman volume 5 #4, 17, Aquaman volume 6 #1, 43, cumulatively covering April 1941 to October 2015.

These groundbreaking appearances are divided into specific eras, each preceded by brief critical analyses of the significant stages in his development, beginning with Part I 1941-1961: Making a Splash

As previously stated, Aquaman was one of the handful of costumed adventurers to survive the superhero collapse at the end of the Golden Age. He was created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris in the wake of and in response to Timely Comics’ Sub-Mariner, debuting in More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941) with an untitled tale latterly designated ‘The Submarine Strikes’ for this edition.

This salty sea saga sees survivors in lifeboats being rescued – and the brutal U-Boat commander responsible for their plight swiftly brought to justice – by a mysterious stranger who converses with porpoises. The golden saviour then reveals that he was made into a subsea superman by his scientist father; an explorer who had discovered all the secrets of lost, long-dead Atlantis…

Records are incomplete, sadly, so often we don’t know who wrote what, but for More Fun Comics #89 (March 1943), Louis Cazeneuve limns the marine marvel’s heated and ruthless battle against modern pirate Black Jack and ‘The Streamlined Buccaneers’, with Aquaman now commanding an army of varied sea creatures whilst ‘Aquaman Goes to College’ (Adventure Comics #120, September 1947 by Joe Samachson & Cazeneuve) sees the sea king sagaciously seeking to expand his knowledge of marine life only to become embroiled in collegiate sporting scandals…

By 1954 young Ramona Fradon (Metamorpho; Brenda Starr) had assumed the art chores, by which time Aquaman was settled like a barnacle in a regular Adventure Comics back-up slot offering slick, smart and extremely genteel aquatic action. She was to draw every single adventure until 1960, making the feature one of the best looking if only mildly thrilling hero strips of the era.

A fine example is ‘The Whale That Was Wanted for Murder’ (Adventure Comics #174, March 1952, and scripted by George Kashdan) wherein the hunt for a seemingly rogue cetacean leads our hero to a conniving smuggler…

Cover-dated January 1956, Adventure Comics #220, revealed how Aquaman saved the reputation of a disgraced naval aviator in ‘The Coward and the Hero’ (Jack Miller & Fradon) after which the Silver Age revival of superheroes caught up to the Sea King and led to a canny reboot in issue #260 (May 1959).

In 1956, Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s imagination and zest for costumed crime-fighters with a new iteration of the Flash. Enjoying a heated fan response, the editors sanctioned other re-imaginings of many departed Golden Age stalwarts, and also updated and remastered its isolated survivors, especially Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Aquaman.

Thus, ‘How Aquaman Got His Powers’ by Robert Bernstein & Fradon, which retconned previous origins for a new tale of the offspring of a lighthouse keeper and exiled refugee from the undersea (and fully populated) city of Atlantis. Eventually all the trappings of the modern superhero followed: Themed hideout, sidekick, super-villains and even a civilian name – Arthur Curry!

Moreover, greater attention was paid to continuity and the concept of a shared universe…

In Adventure Comics #266, (November 1959) Bernstein & Fradon detailed how ‘Aquaman Meets Aquagirl!’: giving a little more information about fabled modern Atlantis whilst testing the waters (sorry!) for a possible sidekick – after all, the Sea King spent most of his time expositorially dialoguing with an octopus!

With #269, Adventure Comics #269, (February 1960) Bernstein & Fradon completed the formula by introducing permanent sidekick Aqualad. ‘The Kid from Atlantis!’ was a young, purple-eyed outcast from the mysterious city possessing the same powers as Aquaman but terrified of fish… at least until the Sea King applies a little firm but kindly psychology.

By the end of the tale the little guy has happily adapted and would help patrol the endless oceans – and add a child’s awestruck perspective to the mix – for nearly a decade thereafter.

The Sea King’s rise is charted in Part II 1962-19: The Sovereign of the Sea.

As the sixties unfolded, Aquaman was appearing as a back-up feature in Detective and World’s Finest Comics (until 1964); teamed up with Hawkman in Brave and the Bold # 51 and – following a try-out season in Showcase#30-33 – made the big jump. After two decades of continuous adventuring the marine marvel finally got his own comicbook.

Cover-dated January-February 1962, Aquaman #1 is a 25-page fantasy thriller introducing one of the most controversial supporting characters in comics lore. Pixie-like Water-Sprite Quisp was part of a strange trend for cute imps and elves that attached themselves to far too many heroes of the time, but his contributions in ‘The Invasion of the Fire-Trolls’ (by Miller & Nick Cardy) and succeeding issues were numerous and obviously calculated.

Now with his own title and soon a to be featured in the popular, groundbreaking cartoon show Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, the Finned Fury seemed destined for super-stardom. Moreover, the writers and editors were happy to embrace evolution and change…

Mere months after Aquaman met extradimensional princess Mera, she became ‘The Wife of Aquaman’ (by Miller & Cardy in Aquaman #18, December 1964): one of the first superhero weddings of the Silver Age and only possible after our hero defeats her obsessive, super-powered stalker Oceanus and frees Atlantis from his despotic grip. Talk about instant responsibilities…

A few years later scripter Steve Skeates and new illustrator Jim Aparo began an epic extended tale as the Sea Lord abandoned all kingly duties to hunt for Mera after she was abducted. The lengthy quest began with her being whisked away, leaving Aquaman and Aqualad to voyage to strange, distant undersea realms and here encountering ‘Sorcerers of the Sea’ (Aquaman #40, August 1968). The saga was a compelling one but frustratingly does not continue or conclude here…

As the decade closed superhero sales tanked in favour of other genres. The Sea King was again reduced to back-up duties in other titles, but the quality of his stories remained high.

‘And Death Before Dishonor’ by Paul Levitz, Gerry Conway & Aparo comes from Adventure Comics #444 (April 1976): the first chapter in another multi-part blockbuster with Aquaman forced to abdicate the rulership of Atlantis due to a conspiracy hatched by his half-brother Orm, the Ocean Master and a mysterious political player named Karshon who replaced him as King of Atlantis. The newcomer naturally had a horrific secret to conceal, but you won’t learn it here as we skip (following a brief feature on ‘The Aquafamily’) straight to Adventure Comics #452, (August 1977) where David Michelinie & Aparo orchestrate the darkest day in Aquaman’s life as ‘Dark Destiny, Deadly Dreams’ finds him fighting both his friends and greatest foe Black Manta. Tragically, despite his greatest efforts, he fails to save the one life that means most to him…

Time and tides passed before Adventure Comics #475 (September 1980) found J.M. DeMatteis & Dick Giordano detail how the newly-reconciled Aquaman and Mera forcibly separated yet again in ‘Scavenger Hunt!’ after a subsea tech and treasure hunter attacks…

Like many good superheroes, Aquaman always maintained a strong presence in a super-team throughout all his troubles, and when they went through their own sales and popularity crisis, stepped in to guide them to calmer waters…

‘…The End of the Justice League’ (Justice League of America Annual #2, October 1984; by Conway, Chuck Patton & Dave Hunt) reveals how an attack by Martian invaders almost wrecked the World because the big gun superheroes were all occupied elsewhere. Vowing never to let it happen again, Arthur disbands the old league and goes about recruiting a new, dedicated and ever-ready team.

With the king in command, established heroes J’onn J’onzz, Zatanna, Vixen and Elongated Man relocate to Detroit picking up trainee titans Steel, Vibe and Gypsy to fill out a street-level roster short on power but packed with potential…

Part III 1986-2010: The Return of the King covers a period of almost constant change and revision with the backstory of Atlantis and the Sea King regularly tweaked in search of a winning formula. In truth, the creators frequently succeeded but could never maintain the high sales each reboot started with, even after Crisis on Infinite Earths cleared away much of the five decades of accumulated backstory…

Aquaman volume 2 was a 4-issue miniseries redefining the relationship of Arthur and his half-brother Orm, as well as solidly embedding magic as a key component of previously super-rationalist Atlantis. Sporting a new costume, Aquaman endured a revised origin in #3, (April 1986 by Neal Pozner, Craig Hamilton & Steve Montana) whilst trying to stop Ocean Master subjugating Earth with lost Atlantean necromancy…

In Aquaman volume 4 #2, (September 1994) Peter David, Martin Egeland & Brad Vancata took drastic steps to make readers notice the Sea Lord and his new paramour Dolphin, as ‘Single Wet Female’ revealed the hero’s defeat of super-psychos Scylla and Charybdis and the awful cost… his left hand…

Soldiering on with a fancy multi-purpose prosthetic against ever-more incredible adversaries, Arthur faces next ‘One on One’ (by David, Jim Calafiore & Peter Palmiotti from Aquaman volume 4 #34, July 1997) jealous junior sea god Triton who learns not to take out his daddy issues against the superhero…

A new millennium and another spin as Rick Veitch, Yvel Guichet, Josh Hood, Mark Propst & Sean Parsons indulge the exiled Sea King’s mythical side as the legendary Lady of the Lake replaces that prosthetic hand with an appendage grown from magic water and tasks this King Arthur with protecting the life-sustaining Secret Sea from human exploitation and demonic contamination in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ (Aquaman volume 5 #4, May 2003).

Still looking for a solid subsea scenario for the unflinching hero, Will Pfeifer, Patrick Gleason & Christian Alamy then return to strict scientific methodology for Aquaman volume 5 #17 (June 2004) as ‘American Tidal Part Three’ finds Arthur helping the citizens of a Californian city suddenly turned into water-breathers by a mystery maniac who also explosively submerged their homes to create Sub Diego. Helping him solve the mystery whilst adapting to her own status as the newly-minted Aquagirl is feisty millennial teen Lorena

Wrapping up the superhero salvage voyage is Part IV 2011-2015: Twenty-First Century Aquaman concentrating on a back-to-basics Sea Sovereign and Atlantean Overlord created in the wake of the Flashpoint publishing event and DC’s company-wide reboot The New 52.

Crafted by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Joe Prado, Aquaman volume 6 #1 (November 2011) saw Aquaman and Mera attempting to reconcile their status as second-string heroes on the surface world and unwelcome rulers of a belligerent Atlantis eager to wipe out air-breathing humanity. However, those petty tensions were about to be sidelined as unknown deep-sea horrors attack above and below the waves; consuming everything in their path in ‘The Trench Part One’

As the New 52 reboot staggered to an ignominious early close, the fresh, amped-up Aquaman underwent another retrofit and re-imagining, emerging with a new costume to oppose an invasion from another reality even as his beloved Mera turned on him. Leading an army of fantastic monsters, the Sea King battled to thwart a ‘Gospel of Destruction’ (Aquaman volume 6 #43, October 2015 by Cullen Bunn, Trevor McCarthy & Jesus Merino) with the only certainty being another company wide root-&-branch retrenchment. DC Rebirth was in the offing…

Supplemented with a cover gallery by Cardy, Aparo, Brian Bolland, Craig Hamilton & P. Craig Russell, Martin Egeland & Brad Vancata, Jim Calafiore & Mark McKenna, Yvel Guichet & Mark Propst, Alan Davis & Mark Farmer, Ivan Reis & Joe Prado and Trevor McCarthy, this peek at the perpetually renewable Marine Monarch is a book of many flavours and textures.

DC has a long, comforting history of genteel, innocuous yarn-spinning delivered with quality artwork. The pre-Crisis Aquaman was a trusty champion and family friendly average guy, who became an earnest, unsure and strident wanderer in the latter part of the 20th century. In recent years he operated as a bombastic, bludgeoning brute with a chip on his shoulder and plenty to prove: proving that the Sea King is certainly a man for all generations, eras and seasons.

What is most clear however, is that his past adventures are all worthy of far more attention than they’ve received of late. It is a total pleasure to find just how readable they still are. With tumultuous sea-changes always in store for Aquaman, the comics industry and America itself, this monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a good bad-guy is a true delight for fans of all ages and vintage.
© 1941, 1943, 1947, 1952, 1956, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1968, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1984, 1986, 1994, 1997, 2003, 2004, 2011, 2015, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman: Past and Future


By Jerry Seigel, Bill Finger, Edmond Hamilton, Leo Dorfman, Jim Shooter, Elliot Maggin, Cary Bates, George Papp, John Sikela, Wayne Boring, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Keith Pollard & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1934-5                  978-1-84856-074-1 (Titan Books UK Edition)

In the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths and its reconstructed DC Universe, time travel – at last for a while – became a Really Big Deal. So, when the Metropolis Marvel did eventually break the fourth dimension, as in the superb Superman: Time and Time Again, the gimmick became as important as the plot and immensely difficult to achieve. But there was an era when all of history and so many implausible futures were just a short and simple spin away…

Superman is the comicbook crusader who started the whole comicbook genre of indomitable costumed champions and, in the eight decades since his debut in June 1938, has probably undertaken every kind of adventure imaginable. With this in mind it’s tempting and very rewarding to gather up whole swathes of his inventory and periodically re-present them in specific themed collections, such as this compelling confection of chronal escapades from a host of superb writers and artists who have contributed to his canon over the years.

The fun begins with a tale from Superboy #85 (December 1960) which reiterated an iron-clad cosmic law of the Silver Age: “History Cannot Be Changed”,

Nevertheless, the Smallville Sensation tragically undertook ‘The Impossible Mission!’ (by Jerry Siegel & George Papp) when he travelled to 1865 to prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, but fate constantly conspired to make events unfold along a predestined course…

A different theory was in play back in September 1947 when the adult Action Ace broke the time barrier for the first time to collect famous signatures for an ailing boy in ‘Autograph, Please!’ (Superman #48, by Siegel & John Sikela), whilst in ‘Rip Van Superman’ (Superman #107, August 1956 by Bill Finger, Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye) an accident placed the hero in a coma, trapping him in a future where he was redundant…

The 1960s were the pinnacle of temporal travel tales with the Man of Tomorrow and his friends nipping forward and back the way you or I (well me, anyway) would pop to the pub. In the brilliantly ingenious ‘Superman Under the Red Sun!’ (Action Comics #300, May 1963 by Edmond Hamilton & Al Plastino) our hero is dispatched to the far, far future where the sun has cooled, and undergoes incredible hardship before brilliantly figuring out a way home.

In ‘Jimmy’s D-Day Adventure!’, the courageous cub reporter ranged back to World War II in search of a bizarre mystery only to end up a trusted member of Hitler’s inner circle, (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #86 (July 1965, Leo Dorfman, Curt Swan & George Klein) before his Daily Planet colleague almost ripped apart the fabric of reality by nearly becoming Superman’s mum when ‘Lois Lane’s Romance with Jor-El!’ (Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #59; August 1965, by Hamilton & Kurt Schaffenberger) resulted from an ill-considered jaunt to pre-cataclysm Krypton…

One of the boldest experiments of the decade occurred when Hamilton, Swan & Klein introduced us to ‘The Superman of 2965!’ (Superman #181, November 1965) for the first of a series of adventures starring the Man of Steel’s distant descendent. A two-part sequel appeared the following summer in Action Comics #338-339, (June and July 1966) ‘Muto… Monarch of Menace!’ and ‘Muto Versus the Man of Tomorrow!’ and a postscript tale appeared in World’s Finest Comics #166 entitled ‘The Danger of the Deadly Duo!’ teaming that era’s Batman and Superman against Muto and the latest in a long line of Jokers (May 1967 by Jim Shooter, Swan & Klein).

For Superman #295, Elliot Maggin, Curt Swan & Bob Oksner produced ‘Costume, Costume – Who’s got the Costume?’ (January 1976): a neat piece of cross-continuity clean-up that featured a few DC parallel worlds including those of Kamandi (Last Boy on Earth) and the Legion of Super-Heroes.

From June of that same year ‘Superman, 2001!’ – by Maggin, Cary Bates, Swan & Oksner – was an Imaginary Story (a tale removed from regular continuity) featured in the anniversary issue Superman #300, which posited what would have happened if baby Kal-El’s rocket had landed in the Cold War era of 1976 – an intriguing premise then which looks uncomfortably like the TV series Smallville to my jaded 21st century eyes…

This fascinating collection concludes with ‘The Last Secret Identity’ (from 1983’s DC Comics Presents Annual #2, by Maggin, Keith Pollard, Mike DeCarlo and Tod Smith), which introduced the first incarnation of Superwoman, with a time-travelling historian landing in Metropolis only to become the subject of her own research…

These tales are clever, plot-driven romps far removed from today’s angst-heavy psycho-dramas and unrelentingly oppressive epics. If you’re after some clean-cut, wittily gentle adventure there’s no better place to go – or time…
© 1947, 1956, 1960, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1976, 1983, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Vs. Brainiac


By Otto Binder, Jerry Seigel, Edmund Hamilton, Cary Bates, Marv Wolfman, John Byrne, Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, Joe Kelly, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Gil Kane, George Pérez, Kerry Gammill, German Garcia, Kano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1940-6

Superman is the comicbook crusader who started the whole masked marvel genre and, in the decades since his debut in 1938, has probably undertaken every species of adventure imaginable. With this in mind it’s inevitable and constantly rewarding to gather up whole swathes of his inventory and periodically re-present them in specific themed collections, such as this calculated confection of cosmic clashes with alien arch-foe Brainiac.

Since his first appearance in Action Comics #242, the alien marauder has been a perennial favourite foe of the Man of Steel, and has remained so even after being subsequently upgraded and retooled many times. Brilliant and relentless, he has been continually refitted over the decades until he now stands as the ultimate artificial nemesis, a chilling remorseless thing of cogs, clockwork and undying computer code.

This superb collection represents appearances both landmark and rare from the many brilliant writers and artists who have contributed to the Kryptonian canon over the years, and with faultless logic opens with that aforementioned and extremely impressive introductory saga.

‘The Super-Duel in Space’ was crafted by Otto Binder & Al Plastino (Action #242, July, 1958) and details how an evil alien scientist attempts to add Metropolis to his collection of miniaturised cities in bottles.

As well as a titanic tussle in its own right, this tale utterly altered the mythology of the Man of Steel by introducing Kandor, an entire city full of Kryptonians who had escaped the planet’s destruction when Brainiac captured and bottled them as part of his vivarium of cultures and civilisations.

Although Superman rescued his fellow survivors, the villain escaped to strike again, and it would be years before the hero could restore his fellow Kryptonian survivors to their true size.

Next is a delicious sharp yarn from Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane#17 (May 1960), scripted by Jerry Siegel and illustrated by the sublime art team of Curt Swan & George Klein. ‘Lana Lang, Superwoman’ has the Man of Tomorrow temporarily imbue both Lana and Lois with superpowers to foil a blackmail/murder plot by the viridian villain, after which novel-length saga ‘The Team of Luthor and Brainiac’ (by Edmund Hamilton, Swan & Klein from Superman #167, February 1964) not only teams the hero’s greatest foes in an uneasy alliance but also reveals for the first time that the alien interloper is actually a malevolent mechanism in humanoid form, designed by the fearsome Computer-Tyrants of planet Colu to infiltrate and all destroy organic races across the universe.

Then there’s a big jump to the end of the 1970s for the next story, an epic 3-part clash which originally appeared in Action Comics #489-491 (November 1978-January 1979), scripted by the hugely undervalued Cary Bates and illustrated by Swan & Frank Chiaramonte.

‘Krypton Dies Again’ finds Superman once more battling Brainiac when the light from the decades-gone explosion of his homeworld finally reaches Earth. The resultant flash supercharges his Kryptonian cells leaving the Man of Steel helpless. ‘No Tomorrow for Superman!’ then sees an increasingly berserk hero unable to cope until joined by Hawkman to finally resolve ‘A Matter of Light and Death!’

In Action Comics #544 (June 1983) both Lex Luthor and Brainiac were given radical makeovers to transform them more apposite menaces for the World’s Greatest Superhero. Marv Wolfman & Gil Kane amped up the computer conqueror’s threat-level with ‘Rebirth!’ as uncanny cosmic forces reshape the humanoid horror into a mechanistic angel of death…

When DC Comics decided to rationalise and reconstruct their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985 they also used the event to regenerate their key properties at the same time. The biggest gun they had was Superman and it’s hard to argue that the change was not before time. The new, back-to-basics Man of Steel was a sensation and members of his decades-old rogues’ gallery were suitably reimagined to match the new, grittier sensibility.

In this continuity ‘The Amazing Brainiac’ (Adventures of Superman #438, March 1988, written by John Byrne & Jerry Ordway, illustrated by Ordway & John Beatty) was Vril Dox: a monolithic disembodied intellect from the planet Colu who slowly inhabits and transmogrifies the body of showbiz mentalist Milton Moses Fine. Eventually, it grows beyond human physical limits in ‘Man and Machine’ (Action Comics #649, January 1990, by Roger Stern, George Pérez, Kerry Gammill & Brett Breeding) to eventually become a time-travelling ball of malignant computer code, reconstructing or co-opting ever-more formidable physical forms in its self-appointed mission to eradicate Superman…

By the time of ‘Sacrifice for Tomorrow’ (Action Comics #763; March 2000, and realised by Joe Kelly, German Garcia, Kano & Mario Alquiza), the fiend has transformed into its 13th iteration and converted Metropolis into an automated City of the Future.

The malware warlord has also learned how to possess human infants – including Lana Lang’s newborn son and Luthor’s daughter Lena

With a pin-up page of Brainiac 13 by Scott Beatty, Steve Kim & Tommy Yune (culled from Superman: Metropolis Secret Files #1, March 2000) this comprehensive collection of cyber-chillers offers the merest a taste of the monstrous horror Brainiac is capable of but remains a compelling introduction and overview of the undying enemy alien and a superb treat for fans of every vintage.
© 1958, 1960, 1964, 1978, 1979, 1983, 1988, 1990, 2000, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Volume One


By William Moulton Marston & Harry G. Peter & various
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7444-3

Wonder Woman was famously created by polygraph pioneer William Moulton Marston – apparently at the behest of his formidable wife Elizabeth – and illustrated by Harry G. Peter in a well-intentioned attempt to offer girls a positive and forceful role model.

Her spectacular launch and preview (that’s the comicbook heroine, not Mrs. Marston) came in an extra feature inside All Star Comics #8, home of the immortal Justice Society of America and one of the company’s most popular publications.

The Perfect Princess gained her own series and the cover-spot in new anthology title Sensation Comics launching a month later and was a huge and instant hit. She won her own eponymous title in late Spring of that year (cover-dated Summer 1942).

Using the nom de plume Charles Moulton, Marston scripted all the Amazing Amazon’s many and miraculous adventures until his death in 1947, whereupon Robert Kanigher took over the writer’s role. Venerable co-creator H.G. Peter illustrated almost every WW tale until his own death in 1958.

Spanning December 1941 – February/March 1943, this superb full-colour deluxe softcover compilation (also available as an eBook edition) collects that seminal debut from All Star Comics #8, and her every iconic adventure from Sensation Comics #1-14, Wonder Woman #1-3 plus the first adventure from anthological book of (All) Stars Comics Cavalcade #1 and begins with ‘Introducing Wonder Woman’

On a hidden island of immortal super-women, an American aviator crashes to Earth. Near death, Captain Steve Trevor of US Army Intelligence is nursed back to health by young Princess Diana. Fearing her growing obsession with the man, her mother Queen Hippolyte reveals the hidden history of the Amazons: how they were seduced and betrayed by men but rescued by the goddess Aphrodite on condition that they thenceforward isolate themselves from the rest of the world and devote their eternal lives to becoming ideal, perfect creatures.

However, after Trevor explains the perfidious spy plot which accidentally brought him to the Island enclave, divine Athena and Aphrodite appear and order Hippolyte to assign an Amazon warrior to return with the American to fight for freedom and liberty.

Hippolyte diplomatically and democratically declares an open contest to find the best candidate and, despite being forbidden to participate, young Diana enters and wins. Accepting the will of the gods, the worried mother outfits Diana in the guise of Wonder Woman and sends her out to Man’s World…

A month later the story continued where the introduction had left off. Sensation Comics #1 declares ‘Wonder Woman Comes to America’: revealing the eager immigrant returning the recuperating Trevor to the modern World before trouncing a gang of bank robbers and falling in with a show business swindler. The major innovation here is the newcomer buying the identity of lovelorn Army nurse Diana Prince; elegantly allowing the Amazon to be close to Steve whilst enabling the heartsick medic to join her own fiancé in South America…

Even with all that going on, there was still room for Wonder Woman and Captain Trevor to bust up a spy ring attempting to use poison gas on a Draft induction centre before Steve breaks his leg and ends up in hospital again, where “Nurse Prince” is assigned to look after him…

Sensation #2 introduced deadly enemy agent ‘Dr. Poison’ in a cannily crafted tale which also debuted the most radical comedy sidekicks of the era…

The plucky fun-loving gals of the Holliday College for Women and their chubby, chocolate-gorging Beeta Lamda sorority-chief Etta Candy would get into trouble and save the day in equal proportions for years to come, constantly demonstrating Diana’s – and Marston’s – philosophical contention that girls, with the correct encouragement, could accomplish anything that men could …

With the War raging and in a military setting, espionage and sabotage were inescapable plot devices. ‘A Spy at the Office’ finds Diana arranging a transfer to the office of General Darnell as his secretary so that she can keep a closer eye on the finally fit Steve. She isn’t there five minutes before uncovering a ring of undercover infiltrators amongst the typing pool and saving her man from assassination.

Unlike most comics of the period, Wonder Woman followed a tight continuity. ‘School for Spies’ in #4 sees some of those fallen girls murdered by way of introducing inventive genius and Nazi master manipulator Baroness Paula von Gunther who employs psychological tricks to enslave girls to her will and set otherwise decent Americans against their homeland.

Even Diana succumbs to her deadly machinations until Steve and the Holliday Girls crash in…

America’s newest submarine is saved from destruction and a cunning gang of terrorists brought to justice in ‘Wonder Woman versus the Saboteurs’ before issue #6 has the Amazing Amazon accepting a ‘Summons to Paradise’ to battle her immortal sisters in Kanga-riding duels before receiving her greatest weapon: an unbreakable Lasso of Truth which can compel and control anybody who falls within its golden coils.

It proves very handy when Paula escapes prison and uses her invisibility formula to wreak havoc on American coastal defences…

‘The Milk Swindle’ is a pure piece of 1940s social advocacy drama with homegrown racketeers and Nazi von Gunther joining forces to seize control of America’s milk supply with the incredibly long-sighted intention of weakening the bones of the country’s next generation of soldiers.

Closely following in Sensation #8 is ‘Department Store Perfidy’ wherein the Amazon goes undercover in the monolithic Bullfinch emporium to win better working conditions and fair pay for the girls employed there.

There was a plethora of surprises in #9 with ‘The Return of Diana Prince’ from South America. Now Mrs Diana White, the young mother needs her job and identity back until her inventor husband can sell his latest invention to the US army. Luckily, Wonder Woman and an obliging gang of saboteurs help to expedite matters…

The next major landmark was the launch of the Amazon’s own solo title. The first quarterly opens here a text feature on the Amazon’s pantheon of godly patrons in ‘Who is Wonder Woman?’ after which comic action commences with a greatly expanded revision of her first appearance in ‘A History of the Amazons: The Origin of Wonder Woman’. This is swiftly followed by the beguiling mystery tale ‘Wonder Woman Goes to the Circus’ wherein Diana had to solve the bizarre serial murders of the show’s elephants and Paula von Gunther again rears her shapely head in ‘Wonder Woman versus the Spy Ring’ wherein the loss of the Golden Lasso almost causes the heroine’s demise and ultimate defeat of the American Army…

The issue ends with ‘The Greatest Feat of Daring in Human History’ as Diana and Etta head for Texas, only to become embroiled in a sinister scheme involving Latin Lotharios, lady bullfighters, lethal spies and a Nazi attempt to conquer Mexico…

Back in Sensation Comics #10 (October 1942) ‘The Railroad Plot’ celebrates Steve and Wonder Woman’s first anniversary by exposing a sinister plan devised by Japanese and German agents to blow up New York using the labyrinth of subway tunnels under the city, whilst ‘Mission to Planet Eros’ debuts the Princess’ long line of cosmic fantasy exploits as the Queen of Venus requests Diana’s aid in saving an entire planetary civilisation from gender inequality and total breakdown, before ‘America’s Guardian Angel’ – from Sensation #12 – finds the Warrior Princess accepting an offer to play herself in a patriotic Hollywood movie, only to find the production had been infiltrated by the insidious Paula and her gang of slave-girls…

Preceded by an illustrated prose piece about ‘The God of War’, Wonder Woman #2 comprises a four-part epic introducing the Astounding Amazon’s greatest enemy in ‘Mars, God of War’. He apparently instigated the World War from his HQ on the distant red planet but chafes at the lack of progress since Wonder Woman entered the fray on the side of the peace-loving allies. He now opts for direct action rather than trust his earthly pawns Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito

When Steve goes missing, Diana allows herself to be captured and ferried to Mars. Here she starts disrupting the efficient working of the war-god’s regime and fomenting unrest amongst the slave population, before rescuing Steve and heading home to Earth. ‘The Earl of Greed’, one of Mars’ trio of trusted subordinates, takes centre stage in the second chapter with orders to recapture Steve and Diana at all costs.

As the bold duo attempt to infiltrate Berlin, Greed uses his influence on Hitler to surreptitiously redirect the German war effort, using Gestapo forces to steal all the USA’s gold reserves…

With Steve gravely injured, the Amazon returns to America and whilst her paramour recuperates, uncovers and foils the Ethereal Earl’s machinations to prevent much-needed operating funds from reaching Holliday College where young girls learn to be independent free-thinkers…

With Greed thwarted, Mars next dispatches ‘The Duke of Deception’ to Earth where the spindly phantom impersonates Wonder Woman and frames her for murder. Easily escaping from prison, the Princess of Power not only clears her name but also finds time to foil a Deception-inspired invasion of Hawaii, leaving only ‘The Count of Conquest’ free to carry out Mars’ orders.

His scheme is simple: through his personal puppet Mussolini, the Count tries to physically overpower the Hellenic Heroine with a brutal giant boxing champion even as Italian Lothario Count Crafti attempts to woo and seduce her. The latter’s wiles actually worked too, but capturing and keeping the Amazing Amazon were two different things entirely and after breaking free on the Red Planet, Diana delivers a devastating blow to the war-machine of Mars…

This issue then ends with a sparkling double page patriotic plea when ‘Wonder Woman Campaigns for War Bonds’…

Sensation Comics #13 (January 1943) follows with ‘Wonder Woman is Dead’ as a corpse wearing the Amazon’s uniform is found and the astounded Diana Prince discovers her alter ego’s clothes and the irreplaceable magic lasso are missing…

The trail leads to a diabolical spy-ring working out of General Darnell’s office and an explosive confrontation in a bowling alley, whilst ‘The Story of Fir Balsam’ in Sensation #14 offered a seasonal tale concerning lost children, an abused mother and escaped German aviators which was all happily resolved around a lonely pine tree, after which the Immortal Warrior celebrated her next publishing milestone…

The 1938 debut of Superman propelled National Comics to the forefront of their fledgling industry and a year later the company was licensed to produce a commemorative comicbook celebrating the opening of the New York World’s Fair.

The Man of Tomorrow prominently featured on the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics among such four-colour stars as Zatara, Butch the Pup, Gingersnap and The Sandman. In 1940 another abundant premium emerged with Batman added to the roster, and the publishers felt they had an item and format worth pursuing commercially.

The spectacular card-cover 96-page anthologies had been a huge hit: convincing the editors that an over-sized anthology of their pantheon of characters, with Superman and Batman prominently featured, would be a worthwhile proposition. Thus, the format was retained for a wholly company-owned, quarterly high-end package, retailing for the then-hefty price of 15¢.

Launching as World’s Best Comics #1 in Spring 1941, the book transformed into World’s Finest Comics from #2, beginning a stellar 45-year run which only ended as part of the massive clear-out and decluttering exercise that was Crisis on Infinite Earths. During the Golden Age however, it remained a big blockbuster bonanza of strips to entice and delight readers…

At this time National/DC was in an editorially-independent business relationship with Max Gaines that involved shared and cross promotion and distribution for the comicbooks released by his own outfit All-American Publications. Although technically competitors if not rivals, the deal included shared logos and advertising and even combining both companies’ top characters in the groundbreaking All Star Comics as the Justice Society of America.

However, by 1942 relations between the companies were increasingly strained – and would culminate in 1946 with DC buying out Gaines, who used the money to start EC Comics.

All-American thus decided to create its own analogue to World’s Finest, featuring only AA characters. The outsized result was Comics Cavalcade

Cover-dated December 1942-January 1943 – and following Frank Harry’s gloriously star-studded cover to Comic Cavalcade #1 – Wonder Woman’s fourth regular star slot began with the company superstar solving the Mystery of the House of the Seven Gables (as ever the fruits of Marston & Peter’s fevered imaginations) wherein Diana Prince stumbles upon a band of Nazi spies. All too soon the Amazing Amazon needs the help of some plucky youngsters to quash the submarine-sabotaging brutes…

Wonder Woman #3 then dedicates its entirety to the return of an old foe; commencing with ‘A Spy on Paradise Island’ as the undergrads of Holliday College for Women girls – and Etta Candy – are initiated into some pretty wild Amazon rites on Paradise Island.

Sadly the revels inadvertently allow an infiltrator to gain access and pave the way for an invasion by Japanese troops…

Naturally Wonder Woman and the Amazon prevail on the day but the sinister mastermind behind it all is revealed and quickly strikes back in ‘The Devilish Devices of Baroness Paula von Gunther.’

Whilst the on-guard Amazons build a women’s prison that will be known as “Reform Island”, Wonder Woman – acting on information received by the new inmates – trails Paula and is in time to crush her latest scientific terror: an invisibility ray…

‘The Secret of Baroness von Gunther’ offers a rare peek at a villain’s motivation when the captured super-spy reveals how her little daughter Gerta has been a hostage of the Nazis for years and remains a goad to ensure the genius’ total dedication to the German cause… Naturally, the Amazing Amazon instantly determines to reunite mother and child at all costs after which ‘Ordeal by Fire’ confirms the Baroness aiding Diana and Steve in dismantling the spy network and slave-ring the Nazis had spent so long building in America… but only at great personal and physical cost to the repentant Paula…

Much has been posited about subtexts of bondage and subjugation in Marston’s tales – and, to be frank, there really are lots of scenes with girls tied up, chained or about to be whipped – but I just don’t care what his intentions (subconscious or otherwise) might have been: I’m more impressed with the skilful drama and incredible fantasy elements that are always wonderfully, intriguingly present: I mean, just where does the concept of giant war-kangaroos come from?

Exotic, baroque, beguiling and uniquely exciting, these Golden Age adventures of the World’s Most Famous female superhero are timeless, pivotal classics in the development of comicbooks and still provide lashings of fun and thrills for anyone looking for a great nostalgic read. If that’s you, you know what you need to do…
© 1941, 1942, 1943, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Books of Magic


By Neil Gaiman, John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess & Paul Johnson (DC/Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3781-3 (HB)                :978-1-4012-4686-0 (PB)
:978-1-85286-470-5 (Titan Books Edition)

Way back when Neil Gaiman was just making a name for himself at DC, he was asked to consolidate and rationalise the role of magic in that expansive shared universe. Over the course of four Prestige Format issues a quartet of mystical champions (thereinafter known as “the Trenchcoat Brigade”) took a supposedly typical London schoolboy on a Cook’s Tour of Time, Space and Infinite Dimensions in preparation for his long-anticipated ascendancy. This meant becoming the most powerful wizard of the 21st Century, and an overwhelming force for either Light or Darkness.

Shy, bespectacled Timothy Hunter is an inoffensive lad unaware of his incredible potential for Good or Evil (and yes, I know who he looks like but this series came out eight years before anybody had ever heard of Hogwarts, so get over it).

In an attempt to keep him righteous, the self-appointed mystic guides provide him and – through literary extension – us, with a full and dangerously immersive tutorial in the history and state of play of “The Art” and its major practitioners and adepts.

However, although the four guardians are not unanimous or even united in their plans and hopes for the boy, the “other side” certainly are. If Hunter cannot be turned to the Dark, he has to die…

Thus, following an Introduction by master fantasist Roger Zelazny, the thaumaturgical thrills begin in Book I, painted by John Bolton.

Here the Phantom Stranger conducts his youthful charge on a trip through ‘The Invisible Labyrinth’ revealing to Tim the history of magic with introductions to Lucifer, Atlantis, and other Ancient Empires, Jason Blood and the boy Merlin as well as mid-20th century crime-busting mystics Zatara and Sargon the Sorcerer.

Scott Hampton picks up the brushes for the second chapter, wherein irrepressible urban trickster-wizard John Constantine hosts a trip to ‘the Shadow World’ of the then-established DCU: introducing the wide-eyed lad to contemporary paranormal players such as Deadman, Madame Xanadu, the Spectre, Doctor Fate, Baron Winter (of Night Force fame), Dr. Terry Thirteen (AKA the Ghost-Breaker) and mystic super-hero Zatanna, who boldly organises a trip to a mage’s bar where the likes of Tala, Queen of Darkness and the diabolical opportunist Tannarak attempt to take matters – and Tim – into their own wicked hands…

For his third work-experience trip, Dr. Occult (created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster years before Superman debuted) escorts the messianic boy on a voyage to the outer lands and Realms of Faerie, courtesy of Charles Vess in ‘The Land of Summer’s Twilight’. This ethereal, beautifully evocative segment would inform much of Timothy Hunter’s later life in the Vertigo comicbook series and graphic collections that inevitably spun off from this saga. Cameos here include Warlord/Travis Morgan, Nightmaster, Amethyst and Gemworld, Etrigan the Demon, Cain, Abel and the (Gaiman-originated) Sandman Morpheus.

Bringing the initial educational experience to a close, ‘The Road to Nowhere’ is painted by Paul Johnson and concludes the peregrinations as ruthlessly fanatical zealot Mister E whisks our astounded boy to the end of time, where the sightless fanatic attempts to twist Tim to his own bleak, black agenda. Beyond Darkseid and the climactic battles and crises of our time; progressing even forward past the Legion of Super Heroes, to the end of Order and Chaos, unto the moment Sandman’s siblings Destiny and Death switch off the dying universe, Tim sees how everything ends before returning to make his choice: Good or Evil; Magic or mundane?

Books of Magic still stands a worthy primer for newcomers who need a little help with decades of back-story which cling to so many DC tales, even today. Despite an “everything and the kitchen sink” tone, this is still a cracking good yarn (available in hardback, trade paperback, eBook and even a British edition from Titan Books), offers useful grounding for all things supernaturally DC and still has overwhelming relevance to today’s much rebooted continuity.

© 1990, 1991, 1993, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo volume 1


By Jim Aparo, Bob Haney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3375-4

After periods as a historical adventure and try-out vehicle, The Brave and the Bold proceeded to win critical as well as commercial acclaim through team-ups. Pairing regular writer Bob Haney with the best artists available, a succession of DC stars joined forces before the comicbook hit its winning formula.

The winning format – featuring media superstar Batman with other rotating, luminaries of the DC universe in complete stand-alone stories – paid big dividends, especially after the feature finally found a permanent artist to follow a variety of illustrators including Ramona Fradon, Neal Adams, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Irv Novick, Nick Cardy, Bob Brown and others…

At this time editors favoured regular if not permanent creative teams, feeling that a sense of visual and even narrative continuity would avoid confusion amongst younger readers and the slickly versatile Jim Aparo was a perfect match for a drawing brief that could encompass the entire DC pantheon and all of time, space and relative dimensions in any single season…

James N. Aparo (August 24, 1932 – July 19, 2005) was a true quiet giant of comicbooks. Self-taught, he grew up in New Britain Connecticut, and after failing to join EC Comics whilst in his 20s, slipped easily into advertising, newspaper and fashion illustration. Even after finally becoming a comics artist he assiduously maintained his links with his first career.

For most of his career Aparo was a triple-threat, pencilling, inking and lettering his pages. In 1963 he began drawing Ralph Kanna’s newspaper strip Stern Wheeler, and three years later began working on a wide range of features for go-getting visionary editor Dick Giordano at Charlton Comics. Aparo especially shone on the minor company’s licensed big gun The Phantom

When Giordano was lured away to National/DC in 1968 he brought his top stars (primarily Steve Ditko, Steve Skeates and Aparo) with him. Aparo began his lengthy, life-long association with DC illustrating and reinvigorating moribund title Aquaman – although he continued with The Phantom until his duties increased with the addition of numerous short stories for the monolith’s burgeoning horror anthologies and revived 1950s supernatural hero The Phantom Stranger

Aparo went on to become an award-winning mainstay of DC’s artistic arsenal, with stellar runs on The Spectre, The Outsiders and Green Arrow but his star was always linked to Batman’s…

Scripted throughout by Bob Haney and reprinting B&B #98, 101-102 and 104-122 (spanning October/November 1971 through October 1975) in a sturdy hardback and/or eBook compilation, this fabulous celebration opens without preamble in debut tale ‘The Mansion of the Misbegotten!’, as the aforementioned Phantom Stranger guests in a truly sinister tale of suburban devil-worship which sees Batman thoroughly out of his depth when his godson seemingly becomes a receptacle for Satan on Earth…

Aparo returned for the anniversary 100th issue as Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary substituted for a gunshot-riddled Batman on the verge of death and trapped as ‘The Warrior in a Wheel-Chair’ and settled in for outrageous murder-mystery ‘Cold-Blood, Hot Gun’ in the next issue wherein Metamorpho, the Element Man assisted the Caped Crusader in foiling the world’s deadliest hitman.

Brave and the Bold #102 featured a true rarity. The Teen Titans featured in an angry tale of the generation gap ‘Commune of Defiance’ which began as an Aparo job, but in a bizarre turnabout Neal Adams – an artist legendary for blowing deadlines – was called in to finish the story, contributing the last nine pages of the tension-packed thriller of political hardball and civic corruption.

Jim Aparo began an unbroken run of enticing epics with B&B #104 (October/November 1972): deftly picturing a poignant story of love from beyond the grave in ‘Second Chance for a Deadman?’ after which a depowered Wonder Woman returned after a long absence in gripping revolutionary epic ‘Play Now… Die Later!’, wherein martial artist Diana Prince and Batman become pawns in a bloody South American feud exported to the streets of Gotham.

The next issue saw Green Arrow sucked into a murderous get-rich-quick con in ‘Double Your Money… and Die’, featuring a surprise star villain…

Black Canary then popped back in a clever take on the headline-grabbing – and still unsolved – D.B. Cooper hijacking of an airliner in ‘The 3-Million Dollar Sky’ from B&B #107 (June-July 1973. BTW: Inflation sucks. The man known as “Cooper” only got $200,000 when he jumped out of that Boeing 727 in November 1971, never to be see again…

A wonderfully chilling tale of obsession follows as semi-retired war hero Sgt. Rock tries once more to catch the greatest monster in history on ‘The Night Batman Sold his Soul!’

Spooky supernatural shocks were very much the tone of the times as ‘Gotham Bay Be My Grave!’ paired the Caped Crusader and Jack Kirby’s then-latest sensation Etrigan the Demon in battle against an unquiet spirit determined to avenge his own execution after nearly a century. It was followed by a canny Cold War adventure starring semi-regular Wildcat in his civilian guise as Ted Grant, retired heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

Although the veteran Justice Society hero was usually stationed on the alternate Earth 2 at this time, no explanation was ever given for his presence on “our” planet. Haney always chose great plots and stories over choking details and canonical quibbles. It used to drive continuity-conscious fans utterly nuts…

Issue #111 boasted “the strangest team-up in history” as Batman joined forces with his greatest enemy, the Joker, for a brilliantly complex tale of cross and double cross in ‘Death has the Last Laugh!’ – which possibly led to the Harlequin of Hate’s own short-run series a year later.

With the next bimonthly issue B&B became a 100-Page Super Spectacular title: a much missed high-value experiment which offered an expanded page count of new material supplemented by classic reprints that turned many contemporary purchasers into avid fans of “the good old days”.

First to co-star in this new format was Kirby’s super escape artist Mister Miracle who joins the Gotham Guardian (himself regarded as the world’s greatest escapologist until the introduction of Jolly Jack’s Fourth World) in a tale of aliens and ancient Egyptians entitled ‘The Impossible Escape!’ whilst #113 sees the return of robotic misfits the Metal Men in a tense siege situation as the heroes must rescue the population of a hostage skyscraper in ‘The 50-Story Killer!’ before Aquaman helps save Gotham City from atomic annihilation in the gripping terrorist saga ‘Last Jet to Gotham’ in #114.

‘The Corpse that wouldn’t Die!’ is a decidedly different kind of drama as Batman is declared brain-dead after an assault, with size-shifting superhero the Atom compelled to occupy his brain to complete the Caped Crusader’s “last case”.

Needless to say, the Gotham Gangbuster recovers in time for another continuity-crunching supernatural team-up with the Spectre in #116’s ‘Grasp of the Killer Cult’ before embarking on a ‘Nightmare Without End’: a brilliant espionage thriller guest-starring aging World War II legend Sgt. Rock and the survivors of Easy Company, and a fitting end to the 100-page experiment.

The Brave and the Bold#118 returned to standard comic book format, if not content, as both Wildcat and the Joker join Batman in the rugged fight-game drama ‘May the Best Man Die!’. Sometime-villain Man-Bat also had his own short-lived series at his time and he impressively guests in #119’s exotic tale of despots and bounty-hunters ‘Bring Back Killer Krag’.

Possibly the most remarkable, if not uncomfortable, pairing in this volume comes from B&B #120.

Jack Kirby’s biggest hit at DC in the 1970s was Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth. Set in a post-disaster world where animals talk and hunt dumb human brutes, it proved the perfect vehicle for the King’s uncanny imagination, and ‘This Earth is Mine!’ uncomfortably finds Batman mystically sucked into that bestial dystopia to save a band of still-sentient human shamans in a tale more akin to the filmic “Planet of the Apes” franchise than anything found in funnybooks.

The Metal Men bounced back in #121’s heist-on-rails thriller ‘The Doomsday Express’, an early and moving advocacy of Native American rights with as much mayhem as message to it, before this first volume concludes with awesome spectacle as ‘The Hour of the Beast’ depicts Swamp Thing’s return to Gotham City to save it from a monstrous vegetable infestation.

By taking his cues from news headlines, popular films and proven genre-sources, Bob Haney continually produced gripping adventures that thrilled and enticed with no need for more than a cursory nod to an ever-more onerous continuity. Anybody could pick up an issue and be sucked into a world of wonder, and no matter what his scripts demanded Aparo staged and depicted it with veracity, verve and unassailable potency.

Consequently, these tales are just as fresh and welcoming today, their themes and premises are just as immediate now as then and Jim Aparo’s magnificent art is still as compelling and engrossing as it always was. This is a Bat-book literally everybody can enjoy.

These are some of the best and most entertainingly varied yarns from a period of magnificent creativity in the American comics industry. Aimed at a general readership, gloriously free of heavy, cloying continuity baggage and brought to stirring action-packed life by one of the greatest artists in the business, this is a Batman for all seasons and reasons with the added bonus of some of the most fabulous and engaging co-stars a fan could imagine. How could anybody resist? Seriously: can you…?
©1972,1973, 1974, 1975, 2012, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.